Being legendary isn’t easy.
In the world of hip-hop, rappers come and go, and some artists even disappear, but over the past 17 years, Jay-Z has managed to stay relevant throughout time and the ever-changing music trends.
Amazingly enough, Jay-Z has released twelve solo studio albums and three collaborative albums over the past two decades.
Although some of his albums weren’t his greatest bodies of work, like Jay said, “your last shit ain’t better, than my first shit/ Your best shit, ain’t better than my worst shit.”
During Jay-Z’s interview with Power 105’s The Breakfast Club, he personally ranked his twelfth studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, as his fourth best album.
Although we love Jay-Z, we respectfully disagree.
Magna Carta Holy Grail is a solid album, but compared to his classics, Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint, The Black Album, and In My Lifetime Vol. 1, Magna Carta falls short.
We here at GlobalGrind decided to argue it out and rank Jay-Z’s albums from best to worst.
Check out our ranking and tell us how you feel in the comment section below.
1. Jay-Z- Reasonable Doubt
Release Date: June 25, 1996
Overall Sales: 1,514,000 copies
Reasonable Doubt is undoubtedly a classic, and Jay-Z is right, Reasonable Doubt “should’ve went triple.” Reasonable Doubt debuted at number 23 on the music charts in 1996, but no one in the hip-hop world realized a star was birthed on June 25, 1996. From the gritty street anthems to Jay-Z’s witty and intricate rhymes, Reasonable Doubt was refreshing, organic, somewhat simple, and completely hip-hop, which is why Reasonable Doubt is Jay’s best album.
2. Jay-Z- The Blueprint
Release Date: September 11, 2001
Overall Sales: 2,730,000 copies
The Blueprint is Jay-Z’s sixth studio album, but arguably one of his best albums to-date. Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint? This question seems to spark long-winded debates that never end with a concrete conclusion. With intricate production and soul-sampling combined with the building rap tensions between Jay-Z and other rappers like Prodigy and Nas, The Blueprint became Jay-Z’s most explosive body of work. Not to mention that Jay was also awaiting the legal outcome of not one, but two criminal trials, which ultimately made The Blueprint his venting tool as a cultural ambassador.
3. Jay-Z- The Black Album
Release Date: November 14, 2003
Overall Sales: 3,516,000 copies
The infamous Black Album. This was allegedly supposed to be Jay-Z’s “retirement” album, and with retirement comes lots of pomp and circumstance. Songs like “December 4,” “What More Can I Say?” “Allure” and “Public Service Announcement” are the perfect soundtracks when creating an exit strategy. If a rapper is looking to create a “retirement” album, looking to The Black Album for inspiration may be their only way to success.
4. Jay-Z – In My Lifetime Vol. 1
Release Date: November 4, 1997
Overall Sales: 1,412,000 copies
“I did it again n*ggas.” – Jay-Z
Jay-Z definitely did his thing on this album. His second studio album was similar yet so different from Reasonable Doubt. Being the businessman he is, Jay-Z made this album possess a more mainstream feel. But it’s tracks like “Lucky Me” and “Who You Wit” that bring the album back to the streets without purposely catering to the masses.
5. Jay-Z & Kanye West- Watch The Throne
Release Date: August 8, 2011
Overall Sales: 2,000,000 copies
Jay and Ye have chemistry, and when the chemistry is flowing, magic happens. Watch The Throne is obviously the best collaborative album Jay-Z has ever recorded, especially in the production department. Although this album isn’t Jay’s lyrical best, he still managed to maintain the overall central theme of the album – black excellence.
6. Jay-Z- Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life
Release Date: September 29, 1998
Overall Sales: 5,299,000 copies
In 1998’s Volume 2, Jay-Z the star was born. For the first time in his career, Jay could say he made a hit record: The Annie-sampling “Hard Knock Life.” The other thing that makes the album remarkable is that you could hear every song on the album being played on the radio: whether it was the bouncy “Can I Get A…” during the afternoon, or the all-spit “Reservoir Dogs” late at night.
7. Jay-Z- The Blueprint 3
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Overall Sales: 1,960,000 copies
Jay-Z got together with Kanye West and made the ultimate hip-pop record, selling almost two million records in the process, while crafting two of his biggest hits, “Empire State of Mind” and “Run This Town.” Also, major props to Jay for showing love to the younger generation: J. Cole, Kid Cudi and Drake were all featured on the album.
8. Jay-Z- The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Release Date: November 12, 2002
Overall Sales: 2,122,000 copies
The dreaded two disc BP2. This album is definitely the weakest of his Blueprint trilogy. Between the mediocre filler songs on The Gift like “What They Gone Do” and the throw-aways towards the end of The Curse like “A Ballad For The Fallen Soldier,” Jay-Z definitely failed to deliver a collectively strong album. Instead, Jay should have rounded up his seven best songs from The Gift and his seven best from The Curse, and this would be a totally different conversation. If that was done, BP2 would definitely be higher up in the rankings.
9. Jay-Z- The Dynasty
Release Date: October 31, 2000
Overall Sales: 2,521,000 copies
The Dynasty album is more of a Roc a Fella album than an actual Jay album, with Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek appearing on almost every track. But still, when you think of the album you think of Jay. You just never heard Jay this open before or after this album: “Intro,” “Soon You’ll Understand” and “Where Have You Been” are some of the most emotional songs in his catalog.
10. Jay-Z- American Gangster
Release Date: November 6, 2007
Overall Sales: 1,131,000 copies
Concept albums are tricky. American Gangster was a gamble and although Jay-Z didn’t sonically win big, he didn’t sonically lose either. Many of the records like “No Hook,” “Party Life,” and “Success” are executed with as much precision and decisiveness as a Frank Lucas business transaction, but the calm collectiveness of a gangster proves to be quite boring.
11. Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
Release Date: July 4
Overall Sales: 1,000,000 pre-sale, final tally- TBD
It’s hard to properly rank Magna Carta Holy Grail, obviously because it just dropped days ago, but off first impressions, we can say that this album should be placed in the lower half of Jay’s catalog. While the album is consistently good, it doesn’t possess those classic songs Jay is known to deliver. Think about it, is there a song on Magna Carta that is comparable to “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Where I’m From,” “What More Can I Say?” “Takeover,” or what about “N*ggas in Paris?” The answer is unfortunately no, which is why Magna Carta Holy Grail doesn’t make Jay’s top 10.
12. Jay-Z & R. Kelly- Best Of Both Worlds
Release Date: March 19, 2002
Overall Sales: 875,000 copies
The most popular rapper and the most legendary R&B singer come together for an album. What can go wrong? Well, everything. If one of the stars gets indicted for sex with a minor just weeks before the album drops, the talk of great album sales goes out the window. Although the critics weren’t too fond of this collaborative album, we think the album had more than enough bangers to get a little more respect.
13. Jay-Z – Kingdom Come
Release Date: November 26, 2006
Overall Sales: 2,510,000 copies
Kingdom Come is recognized by most as Jay’s worst solo album, but by no means is it a bad album. However, there are some bad songs. Need we remind you of “30 Something,” “Anything,” “Dig A Hole,” and “Hollywood?” All of which are some of the worst songs Jay-Z ever recorded and released.
14. Jay-Z – Vol. 3…Life And Times Of S. Carter
Release Date: December 28, 1999
Overall Sales: 3,093,000 copies
Even though Vol. 3 had one of Jay’s biggest hits, the amazing “Big Pimpin,” this album missed a lot. Songs like “S. Carter” and “Pop 4 Roc” sound like late ’90s trash. Not to mention that there are numerous songs on the album that are as bland as vanilla. When was the last time you listened to Vol. 3? Can’t remember? Our point exactly.
15. Jay-Z & R. Kelly- Unfinished Business
Release Date: October 26, 2004
Overall Sales: 933,000 copies
Apparently, neither Jay nor R. Kelly learned from their mistake. Just two years after Best of Both Worlds flopped and received dismal reviews, the two teamed up for an album that was even worse. Shortly after the release of this album, R. Kelly and Jay would eventually have a huge fallout, and thankfully, the world won’t have to live through a “Best Of Both Worlds 3.”
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